Hard Light and Diffused Light in Photography

Learn to use light in your photos to achieve the desired effect every time

In photography, natural light is the most unpredictable element when we set up for a shoot. Until we are behind the camera, we cannot be sure what type of lighting we’ll be working with, so we need to know how light affects the scene.

Zony Maya is a master of this skill. He explains the difference between a hard and a diffused light, and how to use these lighting conditions to achieve incredible pictures.

Hard Light and Diffused Light in Photography 1
Aditya Wardhana

Hard light

Hard-edged shadows are the defining characteristic of a hard light; in a photograph with hard lighting, it is easy to tell where a shadow starts and ends. There is also a high contrast between the very brightly lit up areas and the shaded ones.

In a hard light photo, the light is mostly white or has a very characteristic warm tone. The light intensity is also higher: the presence of so much light and shadows clearly shows the light source's impact.

Hard Light and Diffused Light in Photography 3
Hard light vs. diffused light. Zony Maya

Diffused light

When sunlight travels through certain elements (such as a cloud, fabric, or paper), it loses intensity and diffuses. The light hits the subject by way of smaller rays that do not follow a straight line but disperse in space, creating a completely different effect from that of a hard light.
In this case, the shadows are much softer and diffused. The contrast is also a lot less sharp, and it is difficult to distinguish where the light and shadows start and end. In comparison with a hard light, a diffused light has a bluer tone, and, of course, the light intensity is a lot lower when we use diffusers to take photos.

Hard Light and Diffused Light in Photography 5
Hard light vs. diffused light. Zony Maya

How to work with hard and diffused light

Sometimes, it may be impossible to control lighting conditions, for example, when natural light fluctuates. In those cases, we need to find a way to take our pictures and still get a good result. A photographer needs to know how to compensate for the exposure and create an image that it is not over or underexposed.

There are various ways to compensate for overly hard lighting that could negatively impact your desired result. You can move your model and ensure that the hard light works in your favor. Otherwise, if you want to diffuse the light, use a simple piece of material, such as a bedsheet, as a diffuser. Remember to adjust the diaphragm or the shutter speed. Open the diaphragm and lower the shutter speed for shoots in diffused light conditions and do the opposite for shooting in hard light.

Hard Light and Diffused Light in Photography 7
Zony Maya creating a diffused light

To learn how to use natural light to take professional photos, sign up to the course Lighting with Natural Light for Beginners. Zony Maya will teach you to make the most of sunlight with a reflex camera in portraiture photography.

English version by @acesarato.

You may also like:

- Conceptualization of a Fashion Photoshoot
- Legendary Photos Taken on Leica Cameras
- A Brief History of Fashion Photography


Log in or sign up to comment

Get Domestika's news delivered to your inbox